1. Governance
July 30, 2018

Why hasn’t Chris Grayling resigned?

By Jonn Elledge

Why hasn’t Chris Grayling resigned? Or perhaps I should say – why hasn’t Chris Grayling resigned yet?

I mean, he definitely should have done, shouldn’t he? In a less shameless age, when presiding over multiple crises in different parts of the country was enough to finish a ministerial career, Grayling would have been toast months ago. 

Yet while there’s no end in sight for the crises on Northern Rail or Thameslink, there’s no end in sight for the transport secretary’s career, either. Weeks ago now, Grayling was accused of “personally propping up” failing rail franchises, but Grayling didn’t resign. Twenty-five northern newspapers run the same front page, calling for action on the region’s rail crisis – but Grayling didn’t resign. Grayling told Parliament he’s “not a specialist in rail matters” – and what happened next will astound you.

Last night Northern leaders called for Chris Grayling to resign, and while it’s early days, I think that – unlike Northern passengers – we can all make a pretty good guess at where this thing is going.

So, how has he done it? Why is this man still clinging to the government like an unusually incompetent barnacle? Here are some theories.

1. He never resigns

When Grayling was justice secretary, he tried to ban books from prisons and alienated the entire legal profession, and his main achievement was accidentally rehabilitating the career of his successor, Michael Gove. He didn’t resign.

Early in his tenure as transport secretary, footage emerged of Grayling knocking a cyclist off their bike and then lecturing them for it. He didn’t resign then, either.

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Why break the habit of a lifetime?

2. No one knows who he is

Unlike many ministers at his level, Chris Grayling has never really sought the limelight – no wide-ranging speeches hinting at grander ambitions, no thundering op-eds in the Telegraph about his vision for remaking Britain. He is, by the standards of these things, a quiet soul.

So, in the nicest possible way, perhaps he’s not under pressure to resign because the general public don’t actually know who he is. I mean, there are a lot of bald white men in the Cabinet, aren’t there?

3. He’s a Brexiteer

Since Theresa May’s government took office, those ministers that have been forced to resign over their discretions (Michael Fallon, Damian Green) have tended to be Remainers. Those who survived major transgressions, to resign on their own timetable (David Davis, Boris Johnson) or continue hanging around like a bad smell (Liam Fox) have tended to be Leavers.

This isn’t a flawless system – Priti Patel managed to do something so stupid that she was sacked, despite being a Leaver. But it seems fairly clear that supporting Brexit is a fairly helpful prop to a floundering minister.

4. He’s a political ally of Theresa May

Though perhaps this is a more helpful prop still. Grayling ran Theresa May’s leadership campaign and is one of the few loyal courtiers she has round the Cabinet table. Perhaps this, more than his views on Brexit or his abject incompetence, is the main factor in her mind when deciding whether to keep him around.

Last month, the Mirror reported: “Chris Grayling almost quit the Cabinet but Theresa May would not let him go”. So, perhaps it isn’t his decision. Perhaps, Theresa May is torturing Grayling, just as Grayling is torturing rail passengers.

5. London doesn’t care about the north

The Thameslink mess has settled down, a bit. It’s on Northern where the crisis continues abated.

But thanks to our hilariously London-centric political and media culture, you can pretty much do what you want in the north and the national press will ignore it. And without that echo chamber, the pressure on the transport secretary has stayed limited.

6. The North doesn’t care about railways

Even within the north, rail travel is a minority pursuit: the network is so threadbare that, in contrast to the south east, the vast majority commute by car.

And so, as infuriating as this crisis is to those who are affected by it, they’re small enough in number that the government feels it can ignore them.

Whether it’s correct about this or not is a different question – one to which we’re likely to receive an answer in the event of an early election.

7. The portrait in the attic

Then again, perhaps it’s magic.

Let’s be honest – it’s no less plausible than the fact Grayling is still in office with his record.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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